Atlantic City K-9 Cop on Trial for Excessive Force on Ejected Tropicana Casino Patron
Posted on: February 14, 2022, 09:25h.
Last updated on: February 14, 2022, 05:11h.
Sterling Wheaten, 36, was indicted by a federal grand jury in 2018 on charges of violating civil rights and falsifying a police report. The city cop is accused of using excessive force when he set his K-9 dog on David Connor Castellani, then 20, for nearly two minutes.
Castellani was hospitalized for four days and required more than 200 stitches after being mauled by the animal.
Castellani sued the city, which settled for $3 million after Judge Senior District Judge Jerome Simandle refused to dismiss the complaint.
In his 2017 ruling, Simandle called the attack “vicious.” He noted there had been many past complaints about Wheaten’s conduct that had not been addressed by the Atlantic City Police Department. These included 23 allegations of assault or excessive force in his seven-year career.
Castellani had been part of a group of five friends that took a limousine to the Tropicana on the evening of June 15, 2013, for a night’s drinking binge. But he was thrown out of the casino three times that night for being underage.
At some point, he was detained by a Tropicana security guard and cited by a responding police officer for disorderly conduct. He was released and agreed to leave. But he was then seen on security video shortly after 3 am, apparently verbally insulting a group of police officers across the street from the casino.
The officers attempted to arrest Castellani, who resisted. He was punched, struck with a baton, and kneed to the ground as they tried to subdue him.
During the struggle, they called for K-9 backup. Before Wheaten arrived, they were able to handcuff Castellani’s left hand. He was lying on his stomach with an officer kneeling on his head and neck and others securing his legs when the K-9 officer entered the fray.
The video shows Wheaten punching the prone man twice while allowing his dog to attack his neck.
NJ.com reports that much of the case will hinge on the evidence of the video and on the testimonies of witnesses who have contradicted what Wheaten later wrote in his police report.
According to prosecutors, the officer “falsely” claimed the Castellani was “fighting my K-9 partner” and had “violently assaulted uniformed officers with hands and fists.”
He also claimed he had administered first aid to Castellani at the scene, which was denied by a former police officer who gave evidence Thursday.
Testimonies will continue this week.